MondeBlonde was arrested at Keflavik Airport. She had forgotten her duty-free purchases on the plane. When she went back to get them, someone told her, “Ask that guy,” pointing to a man on the tarmac. So she walked toward him and was surrounded by the police. Post-9/11 especially, this is not a good move. As the rest of us went through customs and milled around drinking strong Icelandic coffee, we saw her being escorted by an official. She was wearing headphones; her sunny smile never left her face.
I was impressed by her seeming comfort in the world. She’d told us she’d grown up traveling since she was 10, didn’t live in any one spot, and was in fact about to move from San Francisco to Paris for two months.
Whether or not she’s deluded about belonging everywhere matters less the fact that she believes she does. We now weave in and out of worlds not our own without any ritual besides a blurry passport stamp to formalize or acknowledge the transitions. On top of that, for most people, home is constantly changing. Expensive stores replace inexpensive ones. Chains replace mom and pops. E-mail replaces telephone. Homeland Security replaces the Bill of Right—oh, let’s not go there. I’m always subconsciously monitoring the degree to which I feel like I belong and can thus relax the vigilance I exercise against becoming attached. I can’t afford to get attached, because everything disappears. At least that’s the way my id, or “authentic self,” or my heart—whatever—views things.
The Superbland (see Monday’s diary entry), its lack of individuality and meaning, somehow evens out the psychological equation. Let me explain: In an airport, say, the comforting architectural esperanto, which signifies nothing specific to anyone, assuages my deep-down fear of becoming too meaningfully connected to anything lest it be taken away—because here there’s nothing to take away.
But the frequent flyers have inverted this equation, making the bland Airworld their homeland. It feels natural for MondeBlonde to walk out onto the tarmac; normal for Zoe to feel at ease in the galley of a 757. Real things—like rental cars and hotels—rendered into the liquid currency—airline miles—are their shared culture. It’s an ingenious response to the floating identity state of things.
Airport security photocopies MondeBlonde’s passport and lets her go. “Everywhere I go, I cause drama,” she notes, shrugging. Later, a few people discuss terrorism, ways of dealing with the threat, and/or how possible it would be to sneak weapons on board. “The terrorist weapon of the future is the zip-tie,” one man says firmly, making a garotte-tightening gesture across his neck.
“MSYguy” (not his real pseud) is laughing about the ineffectualness of the new “Sky Marshals,” who work in pairs. “They don’t do anything,” he says.
“Who are they?” I ask. “Who’s in charge of them?”
“The TSA,” he answers. “Transportation Securitysomething? They’re supposed to look like us, like any traveler. But you have two beefy guys with buzz cuts and almost the exact same suit. They’re in the seating area of the gate, chatting—’When are you going back to Virginia?’ ‘Oh, did you go through such-and-such?’ etc.
“Then, on the plane, they’re sitting next to each other and looking straight ahead, not talking to each other at all for the whole flight, trying to act like they don’t know each other. They have the same Palm Pilot with the same phone thing plugged in. If anybody tries to talk to them, they have a stock script. ‘I am just a simple businessman traveling to blah blah blah.’ After landing, they’re chatting together again in the airport. Now, how hard would that be for a terrorist to spot?”
I love the idea of species native to Airworld that are visible only to the frequent flyers’ initiated eyes. None of the Flyertalkers seem overly concerned with terrorism, however. Spending so much time in airports and planes, how could they be? MSYguy admits, smiling, “Really, I’m just mad because they take up two seats in first class that could go to me.”
“Gaugeguy” and Mrs. Gaugeguy, who’ve rented a car, give Zoe and I a ride to central Reykjavik. These people are nice. They’re generous and friendly, but don’t proselytize. You can tell when followers of a cult are truly happy, because they lack that Moonie-like compulsion to convert the unenlightened, which only reveals their inner doubt, anyway, in direct proportion to their evangelical zeal.
We go to our separate temporary dwellings and sleep our separate sleeps. Later that night, we all meet at a bar. Most of us have hidden carry-ins, as the cost of drinks is in keeping with the sticker-shock levels of all Icelandic prices—an ordinary beer costs $10. My single, innocent orange juice, fortified by MSYguy’s little airline booze bottles, magically lasts all night. The waitresses must be used to this.
I feel self-conscious about how loud we Americans are, compared to the Icelanders and other Euros. Another difference between this group and my usual fellow travelers: We’re often ashamed of being American. Self-conscious, we try to blend in. These people, while certainly not “ugly Americans” (as MSYguy jokes we are), don’t even try.
Especially MondeBlonde, who has dressed for the occasion in an eye-popping outfit: a micro-mini plaid/leather skirt, dangerously low-cut tight black top, sky-high dominatrix pumps. I leave after we get to the second bar, the one Damon Albarn of the band Blur supposedly has a stake in. It never got dark, and I heard the next day that at 5 a.m., after the place closed, she was teetering along the street in her heels, stopping cars and asking, “Where are the bars?” Wherever you go, there you are.